The Oriental Magpie Robin Copsychus saularis is a small passerine bird that was formerly classed as a member of the thrush family Turdidae, but now considered an Old World flycatcher. They are found in tropical Asia.
A female from India.
Male near nest in a lamp-post in India.
This species is 19cm long, including the long tail that is usually held cocked upright. It is similar in shape to the smaller European Robin, but is longer-tailed. The male has black upperparts, head and throat apart from a white shoulder patch. The underparts and the sides of the long tail are white. Females are greyish black above and greyish white. Young birds have scaly brown upperparts and head.
The nominate race is found in the Indian Subcontinent and the females of this race are the palest. The females of the Andamans race andamanensis are darker and the birds are heavier-billed and shorter tailed. The Sri Lankan race ceylonensis and southern nominate individuals have the females nearly identical to the males in shade. The eastern populations (Bhutan and Bangladesh) have more black on the tail and were formerly named erimelas. The populations in Burma and further south are named as race musicus. A number of other races have been named across the range including prosthopellus (Hong Kong), nesiotes, zacneus, nesiarchus, masculus, pagiensis, javensis, problematicus, amoenus, adamsi, pluto, deuteronymus and mindanensis. However many of these are not well marked and the status of some are disputed.
It is mostly seen close to the ground, hopping along branches or foraging in leaf-litter on the ground with cocked tail. Males sing loudly from the top of trees or other perch during the breeding season.
Distribution and habitat
This magpie-robin is a resident breeder in tropical southern Asia from Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka east to Indonesia, Thailand, south China and the Philippines. They have been introduced to Australia.
The Oriental Magpie Robin is found in open woodland, cultivated areas often close to human habitations.
The name dhyal or dhayal has led to many confusions. It was first used by Albin in 1737 (Suppl. N. H. Birds, i. p. 17, pls. xvii. xviii.), and Levaillant (Ois. d'Afr. iii. p. 50) thought it referred to a sun dial and he called it Cadran. Thomas C. Jerdon wrote (B. India, ii. p.1l6) that Linnaeus, thinking it had some connection with a sun-dial, called it solaris, by lapsus pennae, saularis. This is slightly incorrect and it is noted that the Hindi word saulary was Latinized to saularis. A male bird was sent with this Hindi name from Madras by E. Buckley to Petiver, who first described the species (Ray, Synops. Meth. Avium, p.197).
Behaviour and ecology
Magpie Robins breed mainly from March to July in India and January to June in Southeast Asia, nesting in tree hollows or niches in walls or building. The female is involved in most of the nest building that happens about a week before the eggs are laid. Four or five eggs are laid in intervals of 24 hours and these are oval and usually pale blue green with brownish speckles. The eggs are incubated by the female alone for 8 to 14 days. The nests have a characteristic odour.
Females spend more effort on feeding the young than males. Males are quite aggressive in the breeding season and will defend their territory. and respond to the singing of intruders and even their reflections. Males spend more time on nest defense. Studies of the bird song show dialects with neighbours varying in their songs. The calls of many other species may be imitated as part of their song. This may indicate that birds disperse and are not philopatric. They appear to use elements of the calls of other birds in their own songs. Females may sing briefly in the presence of male. Apart from their song, they use a range of calls including territorial calls, emergence and roosting calls, threat calls, submissive calls, begging calls and distress calls. The typical mobbing calls is a harsh hissing krshhh.
The food of Magpie Robins is mainly insects and other invertebrates. They are known to occasionally take geckos, leeches, centipedes and even fish.
They are often active late at dusk. They sometimes bathe in rainwater collected on the leaves of a tree.
Magpie Robins were widely kept as cagebirds for their singing abilities and for fighting in India in the past. They continue to be in the pet trade in parts of Southeast Asia.
Doyel Chatwar, Dhaka
This species is considered as one of little concern globally but in some areas the species is on the decline. In Singapore and Hong Kong (Malay names Kampung/Cerang) they were common in the 1920s, but declined in the 1970s, presumably due to competition from introduced Common Mynas, Poaching for the pet bird trade and habitat changes have also affected them and they are locally protected by law.
The Magpie Robin is common in Bangladesh, where it is known locally as Doyel or Doel (Bengali: ??????). Being the National Bird of Bangladesh it is a widely used symbol, appearing on currency notes and having a landmark, Doyel Chatwar (meaning: Doyel Square) in Dhaka named after it.
H5N1 infection has been noted in a couple of cases involving this species.